Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Happy Birthday Newbies Blog!!

Today is my Blog's first birthday!

It's been a very eventful year for me and the Blog, I've managed to progress and achieve a lot in the last year, something I am incredibly proud of.
My Blog has also had over 31,000 visits in that time.

In order to celebrate the anniversary, I thought I'd give a rundown of the year's highlights:

Becoming a UKOUG Volunteer
As the UKOUG had been an organisation which enabled me to make some fantastic friends and contacts, I was able to do something in return by becoming a volunteer. As Deputy Chair of the Oracle on Windows SIG I'm able to help pull together events and agendas aimed at providing a valuable community for Oracle Professionals.

My first ever presentation at the UKOUG UNIX SIG
This was the first time I had given a presentation, and although incredibly nervous, I had a lot of support on the day from David Kurtz and Niall Litchfield. I also received some good feedback which was very encouraging!

My first presentation at UKOUG 2005
Despite having been out the night before on the 'Blogger's Dinner', I managed to wake up fairly early on the day and give a good presentation.
I had a lot of friendly faces in the front row and again received some good feedback.
I think that, despite being already daunted by the prospect of giving a presentation at UKOUG, the scariest aspect was the stunts that some of my 'friends' pulled in the hours before the presentation, resulting in me being introduced by Tom Kyte.
I have to say he gave a very nice introduction, despite teasing me that he was going to get revenge for *that* water spilling incident.
As for Mogens, well, I still haven't forgiven him for being so distracted by the fact he was wearing a skirt that he forgot to show up.

Getting my degree
Finally getting my BSc in Computing was the culmination of four years of very hard work, on top of a full time job, and something that still makes me feel incredibly proud.

Starting work for SolStonePlus
The biggest turning point in my career over the last 12 months was being offered a job as Senior Consultant for SolStonePlus.
I had previously met Mark Rittman on a number of occassions at various UKOUG events, and conversations eventually turned to the fact that he was looking for a new Consultant, and I was looking for a new job.
Despite the potential geographical challenge, this was a fantastic opportunity and one I wasn't about to turn down.
The job is giving me the opportunity to expand my Oracle skills into the BI & DW arena, whilst working with the latest releases and technologies. It also enables me to carry on my work with the UKOUG and grow professionally.

UKOUG Northern Server Tech Day
Being a UKOUG volunteer, and typical 'Northern Lass', I jumped at the opportunity to help organise a Northern Server Tech Day special event held in the North of England. The day was a resounding success and I hope there are many more of them.
There were some fantastic presentations on the day by speakers including Jonathan Lewis, Doug Burns, Niall Litchfield and Jeff Moss.
Presentations can be downloaded from the UKOUG website.
Incidently, the event was also another one of my 'You shouldn't have done it' moments for which I am becoming infamous. Who else would have introduced Jeff Moss with the words 'If he can do it, anyone can' ??!!
Other SIG's are now looking at hosting their meetings in the North and this is something I'm really encouraging.

BI and Analytics event
This was another special event run by the UKOUG, and gave me the opportunity to meet and mingle with Oracle users in the BI arena.

Day with the SAS
What can I say - another day of ritual humiliation!

Gaining my OCA
My most recent achievement was passing my OCA exam - the certificate arrived in the post last week.
I'm on a Client site until October now, but will be looking to go for the full OCP after that.
The OCP track in general is something that is hotly discussed, but for me it was another thing I have worked hard for and managed to achieve.
It's now been added to the list of things for which I can say - 'I achieved that'.

So you can see, it's been a very eventful and positive year for me. I am most definitely on the up and am determined to make the most of the opportunities I have been given.

As a result there will be a few changes to the blog over the next couple of weeks, some of which have happened already.

I am no longer a Newbie myself, and professionally I need to move away from that tag.
However I still wish to provide a resource for Newbies, as I still believe that it is an area that is under-represented within the Oracle community.

I have a few ideas that I'm working through at the moment, so all I can say for now is 'watch this space'!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Studying for the OCA/OCP Exams – Hints and Tips

As promised, here are a few hints and tips for studying for the OCP exams. I know everybody has different ways that suit them, but I just thought I’d share how I did it and what I thought helped.

This is not a 'this is how to do it' guide, rather a 'this is how I did it and I hope it may help you' guide.


I used the Oracle Press All-in-one study Guide.

There are other resources available, such as the course books you will receive, the Oracle concepts Guide etc.
I found it easier to just use the one resource so I didn’t get confused and so I didn’t have too much material to get through in a short space of time.
The book covers everything required for the exam so you can do it just using this book.

The book is well organised into short, readable chapters.
Each chapter contains a legend which highlights general tips, specific exam tips (pay attention to these!) and workable examples.
Each chapter finishes with a questions section and also provides the answers and explanations.

Study Tips

One thing to point out, without sounding patronising, is that you really have to be prepared to put the work into this. It did take over my life for a week or so, but it was worth it to make sure I didn’t have to go through it all again for the re-sit!

Don’t leave the studying to the last minute, pace yourself to allow things time to sink in.

Don’t try and read through too many chapters at once, you’ll find that you’ll forget the earlier stuff.

I worked it so I was doing about 3 chapters per day. That way I was doing a steady amount over the week, and knew I would get through all 21 chapters, rather than having to do half the book the day before.

Before starting the book, I did the practice exam from the CD you get with the book. This gave me an idea of where my knowledge was currently up to.
It also highlights any areas that you need to work on.
For me it was Rman and shared server, mainly because I hadn’t used them much before.
The practice exam will also give you an idea of the style of questions to expect, so you can see what you are aiming for when reading the book.

Attempt the practice exam again once you have read the book, this will show you the improvement you have made and also highlight any areas that still need work.

Other than those two occasions, I didn’t do the practice exam much. There’s plenty of questions in the book to attempt and the questions given for the practice exam don’t vary. So by default, if you did it enough times you’d get them all right, without necessarily understanding the answers you have given!
I just used it to get a results score to use as a benchmark.

I found the best way to use the book was to read the chapter, work through the examples, then walk away.
Get a coffee or whatever, then come back and attempt the questions. I found that by answering the questions straight away, you may get most of them right, but just because you read that fact 5 mins ago.
Have a break and give the info time to sink in – you’ll get a much better idea of what you have really understood.

Attempt the questions honestly – even though you know the answers are on the next page! Peeking won’t allow you to assess how much you have understood.
If you get a lot of the questions wrong, or find a chapter difficult, mark the chapter and make a note to go back to it. Re-read the chapter then attempt the questions again.

For some of the chapters where I knew I had more work to do, such as the Rman and shared server stuff, I made my own notes as I went along. I’d read a few paragraphs, or one of the sections, close the book then try and condense what I’d learned into a few short summary lines that I could refer back to.

The questions in the book, and those in the practice exam, really do reflect the type of questions you get in the exam. If you get used to answering the questions in the book and working out the style, then nothing in the exam should come as a surprise.

Exam tips

When doing the practice exam, note the level of detailed knowledge required for some of the questions.
It’s generally not enough to just have a broad understanding or to skim sections as you think you know what it’s about.

You’ll find that some of the exam questions require you to not only know the different tools and techniques, but also how and when to use them.

The ‘when to use them’ bit is particularly important as there are some questions in the exam that are scenario based.
For example, one of the questions I got was along the lines of:

You have external data stored in flat files. You wish to insert the data into your Oracle database. You have clustered tables within the database. How would you do this:
A. Use the Export/import utilities
B. Use SQL*Loader direct path load
C. Use the Data Pump utility
D. Use SQL*Loader conventional path load

To answer this, you need to know the advantages/disadvantages/limitations of each of the methods.
As you have external data in flat files, it has to be done with SQL*Loader.
As there are clustered tables in the database, you can’t use the direct path load, so the answer is D.

The above question also highlights 2 other important points.

1. Read the questions carefully – I nearly got caught out a couple of times by skim reading the question. There is sometimes a tiny little detail (like the reference to clustered tables) that can make a big difference to the answer you give. Without the clustered tables, the answer to the above would have been B.
2. Don’t panic if you read a question and don’t immediately know the answer. It’s often possible to do what I call ‘reverse engineer the answer’! In the example above I arrived at the right answer by eliminating the ones I knew were wrong.

At the end of the exam, you will get the opportunity to go back and either complete unanswered questions, or review the answers you have given.

If you have time (which I’m sure you will as you get ample time to sit the exam) I strongly suggest you do this. It was reviewing the answers that highlighted where I hadn’t read the question properly and was able to change the answer.

Above all, relax and don’t panic!
I found the thought of the exam was actually far more scary than the exam itself.